A chat with Mark Wilson

Executive Principal, Kristin School

Mark Wilson is the new Executive Principal of Kristin School. He took the reigns at the beginning of term three in late July. Mark has an impressive and successful educational background, most recently having 10 years as Principal of Cashmere High School in Christchurch. Prior to that he was Deputy Principal at Hamilton Boys’ High School, Head of Faculty and Boarding at St Peter’s School in Cambridge, Head of Department at St Paul’s Collegiate (Hamilton) and earlier had stints teaching at Hamilton Girls’ High and Matamata College. Channel Mag’s Aidan Bennett caught up with him for a chat as he was just getting his feet under his new desk prior to the term starting.

After a very thorough recruitment process the Kristin School Board has recruited Mark Wilson – a high quality education professional, to be the new Executive Principal at the Albany-based independent school.

As detailed in our intro, this role at Kristin for Mark Wilson comes after a decade at Cashmere High School in Christchurch that he describes as enjoyable and challenging. Challenging because during that period the city and its people had to contend with the earthquakes over several years and more recently the horrific terrorist attacks.
The decision of him and his wife Judi to come north was for a new adventure. Life had changed with their two youngsters (now in their twenties) leaving home, so it was time for a change. It helped that they have family and friends who live in Auckland.
“To be honest we weren’t looking to leave Christchurch, but we were certainly looking for a new adventure and running one of New Zealand’s leading co-ed independent schools appealed,” explained Mark. “I liked the idea of being out of the bureaucracy of government.
“Kristin also appealed as it is not one of those stony old-fashioned private schools. It is only 46 years young, relatively new, progressive and innovative. I liked the foundation story. That it was founded based on the needs of aspiring local families – not necessarily rich benefactors, which is often the case. It was set up by families, for families, and has obviously established a great reputation. It was a school I was keen to be part of.”
Mark Wilson has been in education for more than 25 years. I asked him about the changes he has seen in that time.
“There have been huge changes. When I first entered teaching Tomorrow's Schools was the buzz. How we interact with the students has changed a great deal. Back when I started, the relationship between teacher and student was based on the authoritarian model – teacher high, student low. There was fear and intimidation. It was a distant relationship in many ways. Now it is all about positive relationships. Quite different.
“In the last decade we have had the 21st century learning revolution with digital technology becoming prevalent. Schools have been grappling with this to ensure they are relevant to the modern world. Screentime and digital use has become an issue and there are certainly questions around how far we go. In my opinion extremism needs to be avoided in terms of the use of digital technology.
“There has been a shift in philosophy in the teaching spaces. Governments have promoted the carpeted barn ‘open-plan’ approach, with some embracing it and some rejecting it. My personal view is the ‘Goldilocks Zone’ is somewhere in the middle.

"There are some great ideas around more transparency and collaboration between teacher and student – but we are running a risk if we are discarding traditional methods that are well proven to be successful. We must avoid digital overuse and a totally free-range approach. Students need structure. They must not be reliant on Google for their answers. At the end of the day doctors and pilots can’t just Google to get their answers. There are also debates around school uniforms and phonetics versus whole language. Education can be a polarising subject.”
So what are the challenges facing education in New Zealand?
“The overall quality of teaching is an issue, not just in New Zealand but around the world. How do we encourage people to get into teaching. There have been promises from successive governments to ‘fix’ teaching, but this won’t happen until there is more importance placed on actual schools and education. There are new pressures on teachers that aren’t being reflected in salaries and working conditions. I was fortunate to be able to take up a Woolf Fisher Fellowship in 2018, enabling me to visit schools in Europe and North America. I discovered they have the same issues over there. So the problem is not unique to New Zealand.
“Another issue is how we support our young people in the complex modern world. Schools are being looked to by parents more and more on how to raise children and address things such as screen time, gaming, social media and recreational drugs. There are new challenges ahead with the marijuana law alterations. Schools are being asked for more than just academic and intellectual development. Parents increasingly want assistance with providing values and developing character and resilience.”
Mark Wilson says that the holistic Kristin approach to education is what attracted him to the school.
“Kristin is about creating well-rounded young people. There is a focus on well-being as well as academia – it’s not an either/or. Well-being is about our young people making connections to the community and developing their own sense of who they are and what their place is in the world. It is all about how we are turning out better people – those who are thinking less about themselves and more about their community.
“There is also a focus on preparing our students for the global world. Often our students tertiary study will be overseas and they may end up living all over the world. So there is a need for them to be prepared for the diverse global community so they can embrace different cultures and ethnicities.
“A real positive about our young folk today is that they are passionate about an environmentally sustainable world. It warms my heart that so many are keen to become leaders in these efforts.”
So what is Mark Wilson most looking forward to about living and working north of the Harbour Bridge?
“We are feeling very positive about the move. We are excited about living close to so many great beaches and the warmer climate. This is a relatively new and growing area so there is a vigour and excitement about the place.”

Family is a big focus for Mark Wilson when he is away from his role in education, spending time with his wife Judi, family and friends. They are also involved in their local church. He also enjoys reading, movies and does some dirt biking with his son when they are together. He confesses to being a keen supporter of most sports.
I enjoyed my 45 minutes with Kristin’s brand new Executive Principal. Mark Wilson will be a strong leader for our popular independent school.